As Covid-19 vaccines roll out, bringing with them cautious glimmers of hope for a life that feels like “before,” women are seeking out their sexy sides once more. (Credit: Chicago Boudoir)

For many women, feeling desirable is genuinely important — a much-needed thrill, a dose of joy. 

Of course, when you’ve spent the past year working from home in your pajamas, or home-schooling young kids (likely also in pajamas), or suiting and masking up daily to help the masses survive a global, once-in-a-century disaster — well, intangibles like feeling desirable quickly fall by the wayside.

Just when we need thrills and joys more than ever.

Now, as vaccines roll out, bringing with them cautious glimmers of hope for a life that feels like “before,” women are (finally!) seeking out their sexy sides once more. At least, that’s what boudoir photographers — those who specialize in shooting intimate, romantic or even erotic moments — are finding. 

An example: Liz Hansen’s studio, Chicago Boudoir, is presently booked solid for the next few months. She says many of her clients are coming to her in search of something light, something that makes them feel, to put it plainly, hot — and something they can hold onto once the session is over, especially after the pandemic took so much away.

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Laurie Barrie, co-founder of national boudoir company Celebrate Your Sexy (as well as its parent company, CYS Group, Inc.), says business at her 44 locations is, at last, picking back up after a lengthy, Covid-induced slump. “I do believe women are feeling safer … and we are seeing an increase in our clientele as a result,” she says.

Barrie has an additional explanation for the uptick, similar to Hansen’s. “We have all been restricted for so long, and that has affected our mental state of well-being,” she says. “People are ready to get out and start living life again.”

In Minneapolis, Alyssa Lund-Kyrola of Illuminate Boudoir is also seeing an influx of customers — and they, too, are reconnecting with something good but lost inside themselves. “I’ve found that sessions during the pandemic have been more celebratory and joyful than ever,” she says.

‘A Bit of Self Love’

Boudoir photography has been around since the 1840s, and had been experiencing a relatively recent boom in interest pre-Covid. Modern-era boudoir photos are decidedly soft in nature, showcasing clientele — the vast majority, women — in various states of undress. Though older examples revolved around garter belts and neckties, today’s boudoir shoot outfit could be anything from a button-down shirt to a favorite bit of lingerie. Or it could consist of nothing at all.

As businesses go, boudoir studios are pretty niche, the product is risqué — and they are decidedly not essential, in terms of basic survival. So one might expect such firms to become casualties of the pandemic. And to be sure, when businesses began to re-open around the country, some clients did stay away. For the entrepreneurs we spoke to, that meant extensive rescheduling — sometimes five or six times per client, Barrie says — and issuing numerous refunds. 

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But while some remain hesitant, plenty have returned, each of them needing an indulgence, a boost, after losing loved ones, or losing their jobs, or having to cancel weddings, or skip celebrating their 50th birthdays, or navigate pregnancy and childbirth in relative isolation. So perhaps not “essential,” but definitely something these women needed.

Photographers are masked for the entirety of these shoots now, and studios are cleaned top to bottom between sessions. But those safety measures don’t seem dull the shine women feel by exploring and documenting more intimate parts of themselves, these entrepreneurs are finding.

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“A lot of women feel like this: 2020 was bad, and they want to celebrate [themselves] anyway, or they want to do something ‘for me’ anyway,” Hansen says, adding that she has especially seen an uptick in essential workers as clients — as well as one epidemiologist — who simply “want to feel beautiful and pampered” and “found [boudoir photography] as something to do that’s not awful, that’s fun, and that doesn’t require travel.” 

So far in 2021, Hansen, who survived the early pandemic by taking out a Paycheck Protection Program loan, already reports having nearly as many clients as she did throughout 2020,  and more than she did throughout 2019.

At Celebrate Your Sexy, Barrie, who was forced to lay off 34 employees during the initial lockdowns due to mass cancellations, says bookings have nearly rebounded to where they were before the coronavirus crisis took hold. She’s even been able to bring several employees back on, with benefits. “When it comes down to it, it is not about a sexy image at all. It’s about the confidence and empowerment of being a woman, regardless of age, race, color or size,” she says. And especially after navigating a nightmare, “a bit of self-love goes a long way” toward that aim.

Hansen realizes how fortunate she and others like her are, to have found some success amid a global catastrophe. “It’s been such an awful time,” she says, recalling in particular the loved ones she personally lost to Covid-19. “But there have also been some beautiful things this year.” 

Even more than staying afloat, helping women find pleasure and comfort in their bodies just as they are — after so much time spent just trying to keep our bodies, and one another, going — definitely makes the list for these business owners.

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